26 September 2002

S1M-3423 Race Equality

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S1M-3423, in the name of Margaret Curran, on race equality and two amendments to the motion. I observe that we are six minutes late in starting and warn members that that will affect the way in which I regulate time in the course of the debate.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): We should be aware that homo sapiens is not a rational animal; he is a rationalising animal. Therein lies the challenge for each and every one of us.

I say to Alex Johnstone that I doubt whether we have all reformed our actions, thinking and instinctive responses. That applies to each and every one of us in the chamber.

On this topic, as in so much else, the community will judge us politicians not by what we think, nor by what we do, but by what they think we do. It is important that we communicate on that basis. Challenging, changing and consolidating new attitudes is not a quick fix. We must start by recognising that we are all part of the problem. Similarly, we must all be part of the solution.

Over recent months, I have asked parliamentary questions that aimed to identify how employment in the public service is doing. The proportion of ethnic minority employees in the Scottish Parliament is less than half of the proportion of ethnic minorities in the wider community. In the Scottish Prison Service it is less than one third, and its recent employment has not shown any particular improvement. We clearly have much to do throughout the public service.

I do not say that in a carping, critical way. I say it simply to illustrate the challenge that we face. We must make our public services—as we must make our wider community—more welcoming so that more people from a wider range of backgrounds feel that they can apply for jobs. In our discrimination policies we must ensure that those people succeed and join in employment. That is how we join society. That describes some of the challenges.

The media is a major part of the Executive's campaign. However, the media is also potentially part of the problem. We might spend £1 million on a campaign, only to have it overturned by 1,000 foolish words written by a single careless journalist working for a sloppy editor. The editorial choices that are made by some in the media are distinctly unhelpful in promoting inclusion and equality, and negating racial discrimination.

I ask ministers to publish the success criteria for the campaign, which I hope will be successful, as we all do. How will the success of the campaign be judged? That is particularly difficult, because inevitably it is a long-term campaign. If ministers feel that publishing the criteria might compromise the integrity of the campaign because the results will be discussed at an early stage, I invite them to give the criteria in confidence to the working group that is being set up. I would be content with that.

I am glad that the Tories have withdrawn their amendment, because my commitment to equality is absolute, and the words "but" and "tokenism" were unfortunate proposed changes to the motion.

I close by telling members about the first law of genetics, which states that the more highly optimised an organism is for one environment, the more it will be damaged by a change in that environment. There is diversity of opinion in this Parliament. That is of value. I tell Robert Brown that there is diversity of language outside. That is of value. There is diversity of origin in our society. One Scotland needs many cultures.


S1M-3342 Transport (Investment)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S1M-3342, in the name of David Mundell, on the impact on transport of the comprehensive spending review.
... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Far be it from me to criticise the SNP's opening speaker, but I think that he was far too generous. He said that the promised land was on the horizon, but I am afraid that my eyes cannot see it and I suspect that neither can those of many in the chamber.

We do not need to confine ourselves to the views of people in the SNP. David Begg, the Government's adviser, has consistently told the Government that it is woefully underfunding the public transport network. Private Eye has a column called "Signal Failures" and I believe that this Government has been a signal failure with regard to transport. I will illustrate a few of the difficulties under which we labour—I use that word advisedly.

There is a monopoly in air transport. BAA owns the three most geographically important airfields in Scotland, which are there simply as feeder stations for BAA's economic workhorses: the London airports. No passenger jet aircraft in Scotland is registered to an owner in Scotland. Is it any wonder that air services in Scotland are peripheral to the commercial interests of airlines that are based elsewhere and which will always seek to develop services closer to their bases?

We continue to suffer from the tearing up of many of our rural railway lines. As members have heard me say previously, I represent one of two mainland constituencies that have no railway line. Nonetheless, we get no greater share of the road budget. From the limited largesse that is being distributed to support railways, we get little additional benefit. Alex Johnstone was entirely correct to highlight Gordon and Banff and Buchan as being places that suffer from poor roads and limited railways. If I come to Parliament by public transport, I have a £20 taxi ride to the two-hourly service that runs from the nearest railhead at Huntly, which is outside my constituency.

Elaine Thomson (Aberdeen North) (Lab): Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: We have no time for nonsense from Aberdeen Labour.

The western peripheral road is an economic drag on people in the north-east north of Aberdeen. I know of a company that estimates that congestion in Aberdeen costs it about £100,000. The area contains the world's biggest offshore oil base, but the 20 to 30 trucks a day that travel between Peterhead and Aberdeen are delayed by between 20 and 40 minutes on each of their round-trip journeys.

I know that Duncan McNeil did not hear this because he joined us late in the morning but, in the previous debate, Allan Wilson made the important point that his Executive is focused on three i's: infrastructure, infrastructure and infrastructure. Well, without infrastructure, we have no transport system worth debating.

The minister and I have exchanged comments on free local travel, especially with regard to disabled people.

Mr McNeil: Welcome it, then.

Stewart Stevenson: I welcome what provision there is, but my disabled constituents do not have buses upon which they may exercise their right to those free rides. Labour is not delivering for the disabled or the pensioners in Scotland.


S1M-3418 Rural Business (Sustainability)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr Murray Tosh): The first item of business is a debate on motion S1M-3418, in the name of Alex Fergusson, on business sustainability in rural Scotland, and on two amendments to that motion.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I congratulate Alasdair Morrison on telling us the blindingly obvious—that the Western Isles is closer to getting broadband. It is closer to getting broadband only in the sense that the Western Isles is closer to the United States than Edinburgh is. That does not mean that broadband is round the corner or that broadband will come tomorrow.

I want to concentrate on broadband, because although farming defines the geography and topology of the countryside, increasingly the economic life of the countryside must lie elsewhere. Future generations must have access to future industries. The infrastructure that is delivered by broadband technology is an essential component of the countryside's access to the future.

The Executive's strategy is not a broadband strategy at all; it is a narrow-band strategy. Ministers have indicated in replies to me that delivery of the aggregated public sector demand for broadband will start in the second half of 2003, some two years after the announcement of the strategy.

Let me read a quotation:

"Broadband is crucial to the success of the ... economy, public services and the drive to raise people's skills and knowledge."

George Lyon: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I do not have time.

"Bringing broadband within reach of more areas ... will help ... companies to become more competitive, open up opportunities for online learning and help deliver services more effectively."

I apologise to Andrew Davies, the Minister for Economic Development in Wales, for omitting the words "Welsh" and "of Wales" from that quote. Wales is an example of a country with significant rural areas that is engaging in a real broadband initiative, which receives £100 million. The rate of take-up of broadband in Wales is between 20 and 30 per cent higher as a result of the measures that have been taken.

In Scotland, we have universal access to broadband via satellite technology. How many people have taken up a system that is expensive and has some technical limitations? The answer is 182. Countries that are similar to Scotland are in a very different position. The UK is 22nd out of 28 countries in an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development survey of the most connected countries. The rate in Scotland is half the UK's rate. Finland is 10th in the OECD survey, Sweden is fourth, Norway is 14th and Switzerland is 12th. Those countries all have financial independence. Although that might not be the only reason, it certainly helps when one can control everything that one does in an economy.

We are expected to welcome the fact that 67 of our telephone exchanges are capable of supporting ADSL, but we should remember that there are 1,100 exchanges in Scotland. The figure of 67 represents a tiny percentage of that total. Scotland will be left behind unless we can bring broadband to the whole country, on a level playing field and at uniform cost, as is being done in Wales. We must not restrict the new technologies to city centres.

The next generation of broadband is SDSL—symmetric digital subscriber line—which is being piloted in Glasgow. SDSL will present a further disadvantage to rural areas, which will not have access to the technology. This week, we have learnt that things will get even worse.

Allan Wilson: Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: I am finished.

The fact that the new Office of Communications has no Scottish representation will mean that broadcasting and communications will have no voice where the decisions are made. The Executive's partners in Government are responsible for that.


18 September 2002

S1M-2952 Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Presiding Officer (Sir David Steel): Our main item of business this afternoon is the stage 1 debate on motion S1M-2952, in the name of Jim Wallace, on the general principles of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill. I call Jim Wallace to speak to and move the motion.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I share Pauline McNeill's disappointment at seeing in the press and hearing on the radio discussions of the committee report before it was published. Indeed, about half an hour before the report was published, we heard some of the protagonists in the smacking issue having a debate on a report that they clearly had not seen.

I want to develop some of the issues that have been raised in the debate so far and to shine a little light into some of the more distant corners of the bill, which have had less scrutiny. I begin by welcoming the minister's acknowledgement that the Executive will reconsider the definitions that will be applied when considering orders for lifelong restriction, with particular regard to the committee's reference to ICD-10—international classification of diseases 10—disorders.

It came as a great surprise to me that even the principle of victim statements received such a lukewarm reception from organisations that might have been expected to welcome their introduction. I say to Mike Rumbles that that was evidence. Does that say something about the consultation process? I ask that neutrally.

The minister says that the Executive is clear about the purpose of victim statements, but I direct the minister to Victim Support Scotland's lukewarm statement:

"Victims may be further distressed and in some sense revictimised by the requirement to be examined and cross examined in the formal court setting."

Scottish Women's Aid said:

"we would have concerns as to the safety of women".

The principle is great, but genuine concerns are being expressed.

Like Pauline McNeill, I think that victims could benefit from much in sections 15 and 16, which could allow them to influence the outcome of Parole Board processes. The sections relate to people who were sentenced to four years or more after 1 April 1997. Elsewhere in the bill, ministers have the opportunity to modify that date. I encourage them to do so and to consider whether, in due course, the same processes could be applied to shorter sentences. That would give victims a wider role in determining release and it would give them the opportunity to know that release is coming along. Those issues are important to victims.

I absolutely support the banning in section 43 of striking a child about the head or of using implements to strike any part of a child. The furore about smacking and the committee's attitude should have come as no surprise to ministers. I first raised the issue with Jim Wallace on 19 September 2001, when I said:

"The objective is not simply to change the legal system, but to deliver a better environment for children in which fewer are chastised."—[Official Report, Justice 1 Committee and Justice 2 Committee (Joint Meeting), 19 September 2001; c 116.]

That remains my objective and that of many members.

We must welcome the minister's change of heart, but the Executive is not off the hook until it makes clear and credible non-legislative proposals that will deliver change in early course. Those proposals must address the point that psychologist Helen Stirling made to the Justice 2 Committee. She said:

"Some research shows that several verbal punishments, such as really heavy shouting"

which I am demonstrating—


which the members opposite are experiencing—

"or calling the child names ... can also have a damaging long-term effect".—[Official Report, Justice 2 Committee, 22 May 2002; c 1377.]

Roseanna Cunningham pointed to the dangers of miscellaneous provisions bills such as the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill. For example, section 55 makes Scots residents criminally responsible for actions abroad. We have had no time to debate or consider that. Section 61 has been scrutinised, but the need remains to take more evidence at stage 2. Section 59—I do not even remember reading it—says that ministers must report to Parliament on a feasibility study by 31 December 2008. That must be some feasibility study.

Mr Gallie talked about the process for the bill henceforth. I understand that the ruling is that, as the bill is about the criminal justice system, if we agree to the general principles, it will be valid to lodge amendments that relate to any aspect of the criminal justice system. Therefore, anything could be introduced into the bill. According to the advice that I have been given, that would be procedurally correct, but would serve good legislative order ill. That is why Roseanna Cunningham was correct to draw attention to the dangers of such jumbo-sized bills.


05 September 2002

S1M-3309 NHS Dental Services (Moray)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): ... The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S1M-3309, in the name of Mrs Margaret Ewing, on NHS dental services in Moray.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises that the provision of NHS dental services in Moray has reached crisis point; finds it unacceptable that residents of Moray now have to travel to Aberdeen to register with an NHS dentist, and believes that the Scottish Executive and Grampian NHS Board should increase their efforts to recruit and retain dentists to the area.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I say very well done to Margaret Ewing for securing a debate on this important topic. It is good to be able to add my welcome back to her. It is also good to see her introduce, so early on, a debate on a topic that members can get their teeth into. In Margaret Ewing's abscess our hearts have grown fonder, but meantime we have tried to put the best floss on it.

That is enough of the cheap jokes. Although perhaps, given that we are talking about the decline in dentistry in the NHS in the north-east, they are entirely appropriate. The trouble is that we are trying to get dental health on the cheap and that simply does not work.

In the NHS in Grampian as a whole, we have half the number of dentists per head of population that Edinburgh has and a quarter of the number that there are in Manchester and, Dr Ewing advises me, in Cuba. In rural Aberdeenshire and Moray, matters are considerably worse.

I pose a few questions. If members were dentists, would they wish to work in an area in which they would have to work four times as hard as dentists in Manchester? Would they wish to work in an area in which the backlog of dental decay is likely to be large? Would they wish to work in the NHS when they could earn more, get more time to do a quality job and get some time off by working in the private sector?

To be fair, I acknowledge that initiatives have been taken. Investment is being made in community dental facilities, but it has proved impossible in my constituency to get dentists to work in them. We have had the bounty to bring in new staff after they graduate. One dentist of whom I am aware managed to recruit someone to their first appointment after graduation, but they failed to qualify for the bounty because more than a year had passed since they had qualified. The dentist coughed up the money to ensure that they got the member of staff.

Advertising in Finland has been conducted. Finland has too many dentists and we have too few, but even so we are still unable to recruit dentists from there. We are on a downhill disaster curve and things can only get worse. There is an economic risk to life in the area that NHS Grampian covers. Senior people are coming into companies in the north-east and finding that they cannot get their promised dental care. That will damage the reputation of the north-east's quality of living.

As an MSP I am extremely fortunate that I can get NHS dental care in Lothian, but I cannot get it in my constituency. We support Nora Radcliffe's suggestion of conducting NHS training in the north-east. I suggest that we follow the Australian model of encouraging graduates to go to the areas of greatest need. One of the ways in which we might think about doing that is by allowing the Executive to pay off graduates' student loans. There is a gap in dental care in the north-east and we must address it as an absolute priority.


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